At long last, it seems that the ban on WhatsApp calls in the UAE may soon be lifted according to comments made by Mohamed Al Kuwaiti, executive director of the UAE’s National Electronic Security Authority.
WhatsApp's free to use call service has been blocked in the UAE ever since it was launched globally in 2015, first to Android and then IOS users. And it’s not the only service that residents cannot get access to.
Skype and other free Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services are also blocked, though many residents often get access to them by using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which themselves have often been blocked.
Currently, only paid-for VoIP services like Yzer, Botim, C’Me and HiU Messenger are permitted by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) and are officially available through the country’s service providers du and Etisalat.
But negotiations between UAE telecom authorities and WhatsApp means a resolution could be around the corner.
“The collaboration with WhatsApp has actually increased, and in many of those (projects) we saw a very good understanding (from them) of the concept we have,” Al Kuwaiti told CNBC's Capital Connection programme. “There might be a lift of that ban for [WhatsApp] voice calls… and this is going to happen soon, this is what we know and understand from the telecommunication authority here in the UAE.”
These comments will be particularly welcomed by the millions of expatriates across the Emirates who rely on free apps and services to keep in touch with their families and friends in their home countries.
As much as individual users will rejoice, the news could have even a greater impact on the UAE business community.
Neighbouring Saudi Arabia lifted its own WhatsApp calls ban two years ago to help improve business communications and a similar move here could even hint at the eventual unblocking of Skype, something professionals have demanded for years.